Archive for February, 2012

Northern Mockingbird 2/29/12

I haven’t heard a Northern Mockingbird symphony yet this year, but I’m looking forward to waking up one morning to a string of birdsongs and sounds that goes on and on, making my backyard seem full. It’s amazing that just one bird can make such a racket. I found this one at Salisbury Beach State Reservation over the weekend though. Like most mockingbirds, it has staked out a claim with good sources of food nearby and will defend its larder of berries and fruits aggressively  all winter.  They range from New England to California, and then southward through the Caribbean and deep into Central America, but only the northernmost birds migrate.

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Bufflehead 2/28/12

Buffleheads are North America’s smallest diving duck, and will be disappearing soon if the winter remains such a mild one. They’ll be heading for the boreal forests surrounding lakes and ponds from Quebec to Alaska, searching for old Northern Flicker and Pileated Woodpecker nests to set up their own homes in. Above is a drake with the black and white buffalo-reminiscent (so they say) head  that gives them their name. The bill is small and gray, and in the right light the dark parts of the head and neck sport green and purple iridescence. Females are mostly all dark with a small white oval behind the eye. Fetched at York Harbor, ME.

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Blue Jay, 2/27/12

There are always a half dozen or more Blue Jays in the thickets behind my back yard and in the surrounding trees. Most of them I believe all belonging to the same family clan. I never tire of their brilliant colors, varied calls, and corvid antics. Blue Jays are only found east of the Rockies, with the northernmost birds of southern Canada migrating south, but the majority of the whole population are year-round residents. They come in 4 geographic subspecies that vary somewhat in size and color but not significantly, and where the ranges overlap they blend into each other rather than having sharp boundaries. The C. c. bromia subspecies found in New England are the largest, but aren’t as vivid a blue as the smaller C. c. cristata found in the southeastern states. Fetched in my backyard lilacs in Kittery Point.

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American Pipit 2/24/12

This is actually a photo from last month though I figured I’d better use it soon since spring migrants are already on our doorstep—this morning I heard a Red-winged Blackbird in the back thicket and Song Sparrows have begun singing already, though sounding a bit rusty. American Pipits are drab with sparrow-like streaks and colors, but have thin bills and are more the shape of a slender thrush, but don’t actually belong to either group. Their habit of tail-bobbing and darting here and there helps distinguish them. They are birds of open country, and I see them at Seapoint Beach in the late fall and early winter but occasionally well into the new year, being either late migrants or vagrants from their Arctic breeding grounds, and far from their winter range in the deep south. This same bird can also be found on the far side of the Pacific where it’s known as the Buff-bellied Pipit.

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Red-breasted Nuthatch 2/23/12

You’re more likely to see Red-breasted Nuthatches in or near coniferous and mixed wood habitats rather than pure hardwoods. In the northern forests and mountains their natural fall and winter diet consists of seeds they can pry out of spruce and other evergreen cones, but occasionally they’ll come to winter feeding stations in rural areas for sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet. In spring and summer they become voracious insectivores, scouring the bark and crevices of tree trunks. Typically they are year-round residents throughout most of their range, only migrating south in winters when food is scarce. Energetic and frisky, they have long bills and short tails, blue-gray topsides and rusty bellies and chests. Like most all nuthatches worldwide, they have a prominent black eyestripe. Their song is a funny nasal yank yank yank. Sexes are similar though females have paler breasts than this male. Fetched in West Newbury, MA.

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2/22/12 Iceland Gull (Kumlein’s), 1st or 2nd winter immature

Another of the white-winged gulls we occasionally get to see along the New England coast is the Iceland Gull. This one taking off in the foreground is a first or second winter juvenile, light brown all over, but especially note that there’s no black in the primaries, which you will always see in our more common gulls. Iceland Gulls look much like smaller versions of the Glaucous Gull, which is another of our uncommon winter white-winged gulls. Some juveniles can be much whiter than this one. The North American subspecies is called Kumlein’s Gull as these birds actually have no relationship with Iceland, breeding on the southern coasts of Baffin Island and around the northern tip of Hudson Bay, and migrating south of the Canadian Maritimes and around the Great Lakes for the winter. Behind to the right are smaller and yellow-footed Ring-billed Gulls, and to the left are slightly larger Herring Gulls. Fetched at Eel Pond just behind Rye Beach.

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Horned Lark, 2/21/12

With brown and grayish topsides, pale bellies and yellow and black faces, Horned Larks are birds I typically most often see in the wintertime, usually at the back of the beach, or mowed grassy areas not far from water or around airstrips. These two were part of a larger winter flock I found foraging for seeds in the picnic area at Ragged Neck in Rye. The small summer horns of the male rise at the back of the black stripe above the eye. Juveniles are quite pale with very little yellow in their faces. The same bird is called the Shore Lark in Europe and Asia.

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